Writer and broadcaster John Arlott (1914 – 1991) in the commentary box at Lords during his last Test Match for the BBC after 34 years, August 1980. The match was between England and Australia © Getty Images
Writer and broadcaster John Arlott (1914 – 1991) in the commentary box at Lords during his last Test Match for the BBC after 34 years, August 1980. The match was between England and Australia © Getty Images


By Sanjeev Sarma


The super-availability of television has ensured that we see the same things that the people sitting out there on the stands witness. This obviously includes the commentators and other related entities.


Way back in my childhood, we didn’t have television at home. Every thing was driven by this fascinating gadget called a radio. At the start of a match during a World Cup, we’d all gather around a radio set. The one I remember at home was a Murphy with one power combined with volume knob, the other was a frequency changer. We had to be VERY careful while using this feature, and always remembered to get down the volume to nearly zero before switching, at the cost of a clip under the ear if any adult was around and we ignored this rule. There were four other knobs that I didn’t really know the purpose of.


This simple device (we started making it using all kinds of throwaway items at college) would become not only our ears, but also our eyes during cricket matches. The commentator would omit no detail, however small, to provide us with a PICTURE of what was happening. We understood how Ravi Shastriand his bat would look every ball squarely in the eye, irrespective of the mounting pressure, just to ensure that wickets were not lost and groaned, we followed Krishnamachari Srikkanth and his famous left-right sniff as he looked with disdain at high-speed missiles hurled down by the Windies bowlers before whacking it to glory or crumbling down to dust.


We watched every step of a batsman out, returning to the pavilion, probably jaunty after a successful innings, and follow the glove under the left armpit, the bat being dragged and the lines of failure arising out of a duck. Images would swim before our eyes of every step the bowler took, every angle that his shoulder, elbow and wrist contorted into before the ball left his grip. The first bounce was vivid in front of our eyes, the way it came on to the bat, stumps, the batsman’s actions, the fielders movement, everything came together in vivid colors, shapes, directions and movements to us.


Cut to today.


“Awesome yorker from Malinga, skipping close to the batsman’s toes”. What we have seen is much, much more than this, isn’t it?


I wonder whether commentary is a misplaced item in today’s scenarios, when we the audiences get to see much, much more than the commentators sitting out there – a thousand different eyes seeing it all, and seeing much more than just the pair of eyes sitting out there. And what really can one expect than flat statements. The excitement has lived and died in the second we saw it. The statement that follows at most times does not live up to the excitement that we saw. Given that all have today been bestowed with remote eyes to view every event, a “commentary” has shifted into a dud “voicing a statement”


Ego massages and getting celebrities to talk about this have taken away the charm of listening as you watch.


The pleasure of an audio has gone away, especially when the commentator domain has been populated with has-been cricketers who speak worse than they play. And even if they do speak, they pepper the flow with a whole lot of inanities that make listening to cricket highly irritating. There is rarely any banter, there is rarely any good description, and there is really no knowledge acquired through an audio anymore.


Frankly, one refuses to believe that audio needs to be an “also ran”.


Its time for this school to reopen again, the school of awesome audio by people TRAINED to make listening a treat. Its time some of the monies went to training people who LOVE commenting on cricket, bringing in a charm that complements the video we see on our television, adding to the excitement of watching a match. Yes, we do see everything vividly, the same as the commentators. But that’s no reason for them to STATE what we see, for them to “document” orally an action gone by, or make us writhe with pithy platitudes.


Cricket commentary is an art, fellas. And it’s DYING. Lets work to revive it, and make it a huge force that infuses sheer power into video, and makes cricket that much more exciting for us.


(Sanjeev Sarma is an avid sports fan, and tracks cricket from an extremely arcane viewpoint of utopia. Not for him the stats and score sheets, for him the passion, roar, business, involvement and emotion of cricket across the spectrum where stages are set at world as well as galli cricket level)